Timber Queensland has condemned Tambo-based sawmilling company R&R Logging P/L and three members of the Sladden family following news that they had been fined a total of $17,500 for stealing state-owned timber worth $12,000.
In the hearing that took place in the Charleville Magistrates Court on May 8, a fine of $5000 was handed out to R&R Logging, while Robert Sladden was fined $6000, Jason Sladden $4500 and James Sladden $2000 after they pleaded guilty.
In addition, Queensland's agriculture department has determined the company and its employees are not fit and proper to undertake any further harvesting operations under the authority of the sales permit.
A joint investigation by the combined resources of agriculture and natural resources departmental officers found 10 separate incidents from December 8, 2018 to August 22, 2019 where the company and its employees failed to properly account for state-owned cypress timber.
"We fully support the action of the state government and the department in ensuring full compliance with forestry regulations," Timber Queensland CEO Mick Stevens said.
"We do not condone this sort of activity whatsoever.
"Put simply, this is unlawful behaviour by a rogue operator, and it doesn't reflect the responsible behaviour of the cypress timber industry more broadly."
The industry supports over 600 jobs in the state and has a turnover of over $30m.
R&R Logging took on the lease of the Tambo sawmill, owned by the Blackall-Tambo Regional Council, in 2017, moving its operation west from Yuleba.
Prior to that the mill, begun in the early 2000s with the assistance of then-Primary Industries Minister Henry Palaszczuk, operated for eight years before it was closed by NK Collins in 2011.
Blackall-Tambo Regional Council mayor Andrew Martin described the news as regretful.
Before its closure at the start of 2020, the mill was employing a dozen people and processing a road train of timber a day.
As well as owning the mill, the council owns the sales permit for timber, and Cr Martin said they were working through the legalities involved in calling new tenders and getting the sawmill operating again, as quickly as practical.
"It will operate again, it's just a matter of who, how and when," he said.
Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said the fines sent a clear message that such thefts would not be tolerated.
He said the evidence clearly showed the theft of the timber was commercially motivated, intentional and systematic and in breach of the contractor's obligations under the sales permit.
"As the company was aware of its obligations, failing to properly account for the timber represents a significant breach of trust," he said. "It also represents a callous disregard for other members of the community involved in the timber industry whose employment might be adversely affected by the actions of the company and its employees."
Warrego MP Ann Leahy said it was very disappointing for the industry as a whole.
"Cypress is a great industry - it doesn't need this," she said.